California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Friday said the state will require eligible students to get vaccinated for COVID-19 as a condition of attending school in person, making him the first governor to take the step.
The Democrat said the enforcement of the mandate will not start until the first term after full approval of the vaccine by the Food and Drug Administration for relevant age brackets. He floated possible start dates of Jan. 1 or July 1, meaning the mandate might not be in full effect until the fall opening of the 2022 academic year.
Mr. Newsom said he expects the approvals to occur within two grade spans — 7th through 12th and kindergarten through 6th grade. A mandate on staff will be ordered alongside the older cohort.
“We will be requiring staff, K-12 to be vaccinated, in that first phase of a two-phase application of this new directive,” Mr. Newsom said. “The second phase of that application is everybody K-6. Again, that will be months away.”
As it stands, only the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is fully approved for those 16 and older. The shots are available to those 12 to 15 under an emergency use authorization, and testing or regulatory review is underway for younger groups.
Mr. Newsom‘s move will be controversial. Some parents are wary of giving the brand-new vaccine to their children, particularly because they believe the virus is not as serious of a threat to children as older groups.
Mr. Newsom said schools have required vaccinations for things such as measles and mumps for decades, and that standard exemptions will apply.
“We’re all exhausted by this pandemic, we’re exhausted by the seasonality of it, we’re exhausted by these variants,” Mr. Newsom said.
He said there’s been progress in corraling the virus — 84% of all eligible Californians have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
But, he said, “We’re not where we need to be. And so we hope this encourages folks to get vaccinated.